Friday, December 19, 2008

You Can't Take it With You...


...and it won't necessarily be there when you come back either.

Such is life. Perhaps a better way to sum-up some of my thoughts over the past three months would be to borrow the phrase that's been filtered down and passed on to me through a friend's recommended reading: "This too shall pass." I'm grateful to have learned that the phrase doesn't always need to lend itself to you in hard times, but rather it can sometimes best serve by reminding me of the impermanence of everything. Impermanence - a word that's been on my mind of late, especially as I return home for Christmas.

I just got back from seeing my oldest nephew perform some Christmas rhymes at his preschool pageant. He's grown in the last year and a half since I saw him last - not a lot, but he sure is talking more. The youngest is discovering a love for kicking immoveable objects, but he hasn't lost his laugh. Within the first two weeks of being home, I have been grateful to have been able to spend a fair amount of time with the little guys as Christmas approaches. Of all of the things I feel some sense of longing or obligation to do or take part in, there is no sense of obligation with my nephews. It's tiring as hell to hang with them at times, but I am doing my best to get a proper dose of family cute before I head back to Korea.

So, I guess there's lots to write about. I have yet to relate my thoughts on our third port of call in Japan last August: Hiroshima. I also haven't begun to upload or post photos from our one post-contract month in Thailand and Cambodia, and I haven't gotten around to properly commenting on what it meant to me to leave my school at the end of October.

To be fair, the last few months - since the beginning of October, really - have been a bit of a... well, I don't really know what word to use to describe it. Let's go with "challenge" then. Living abroad, you hear from those who came and left before you and those who are about to return home or simply move on to another place for employment, that endings are hard. I experienced this through watching others go through the various stresses that come along with upending your world at the end of a year or more. Some people withdrew socially, others became angry at things they couldn't control, and others just wanted to squeeze-in as much socializing/favourite haunt visiting as their tight schedules would allow. My first 14 months in Korea likely ended in a combination of all three. It's tough to avoid these common pitfalls, I suppose, without having gone through it once before.

So, yeah - I think I have a bit to say. Not sure who's listening anymore, but since I am planning on returning to Korea to work in February of 2009, I may as well get back into the habit of writing. Something tells me there will be a fair amount of Davey time in 2009.

To begin I look at where I am now - leaving all of the other things that have past for future posts. Heck, it's Christmas, and while, for various reasons, I'm not feeling as sentimental as I have in past years, I may as well say something while I have a spare minute in this busy and ridiculously cold holiday season.

Let me just say it - it's weird being home. After a month in Cambodia and Thailand (as well as the difficulties getting out in time to make it home for Christmas), I feel so privileged to be here in Canada. Despite the sometimes -37 celcius temperature plus windchill, there is an overwhelming feeling of fortune here. You might not know it with all of the road rage that accompanies such driving conditions, but I am glad to have seen other lives across the globe, if only fleetingly enough to better appreciate what I have here.

That being said, I'm also more than a little bit dismayed at what we have here. Calgary in a deep freeze is the perfect example of the results of urban sprawl. After a year of living in a place where millions more (with half the GDP of Canada) make sacrifices of space, privacy and comfort in order to be productive members of society while attempting to do the impossible of limiting environmental intrusion. The best way to say it is that in Calgary we are seeing the effects of young families carrying out their grandparent's supposed birthright: a large house with a large yard - as far away from the city centre as possible because that's all that's affordable. My sister, on a bad road day, of which there are many at this time of year, spends no less than five hours in the car. Looking at the footprint of Calgary from the air and taking into consideration the short-sighted damage done from such city planning, it's enough to make me consider, for the first time in my life, that I really don't want to put down roots in a culture that hasn't yet figured out that such a culture of entitlement is simply unsustainable.

Korea is far from perfect - their waste and recycling management systems leave a lot to be desired - but such a populous peninsula brings a sense of immediacy and awareness to its citizens. Not everyone in overpopulated Asia is David Suzuki, but I guarantee that any Korean apartment-dwelling family of four, five, or six would be appalled at the expanding borders of our city limits, the wasted space, and the irresponsible planning of a car culture with a highly ineffective, understaffed, and underdeveloped mass transit system.

Well, damn. I hadn't intended to talk that much about urban sprawl. Then again, it's in my face every day here. Of course the constant cold and ice has made it worse, but that's what sometimes happens when you wish for a white Christmas. Here's hoping that the Christmas spirit soon finds its way into the hearts of many who have been road-raging and writing into the newspaper about how "It might make a difference if someone cared - like a bus driver!" Yes, ignorant Sandra St. Cyr of Calgary. I'm sure that your lateness for work has more to do with the irresponsibility and detachment of the transit employees than it does the plummeting mercury and black ice in the streets. I wouldn't be lying when I say that I long for the friendliness of Seoul and Suwon at this time of year. Then again, if Calgary were designed for people to avoid road rage by staying off of the roads, it might make a difference.

Anyway, though the weather and the resulting road problems are affecting people, I'm pretty sure that there would be ample weirdness in being home without all of that. Spending time with my family - my mom and dad making winter soups, my sister and her family tobogganing and having hot chocolate - as well as with my friends who I have started finding time to see, has really served to lift my spirits. I'm a very nostalgic and sentimental guy at the best of times, which makes Christmas the perfect time to come home since I'm going to be surrounding myself with such sentiment anyway. But after being away from "home" for over a year for the first time in my life, I am better able to approximate an understanding of what it means to say "you can never really 'go home' again." True 'dat!

I'll say more about it later, but it's enough for me to to now say that what I am missing being here right now is a sense of involvement. I'm a visitor in the only hometown I've ever known. Since I'm not staying for long, I am not looking to involve myself further. In essence I'm perpetuating the thing that's really driving me most nuts. No job, no theatre obligations, and plenty of "visiting" to fill my social calendar. It's been a bit of a miracle to be home, though I am restless in a way that's hard to describe. Since I'm seemingly at a loss for understanding this whole "reverse culture shock" thing at present, maybe it's best to save the comments for later. I'm sure there will be a sappy Christmas post closer to the day as well. It's good to be home. My perspective has shifted in places, but my heart, apparently, is right where I left it.